Editor of the City Lights/Spotlight Poetry series Garrett Caples interviewed poet Catherine Wagner before her reading at City Lights at the end of October. She finishes her tour in New York on Dec. 12th at the Poetry Project.
They discussed performance and poetry, connecting with an audience, and the theory of William Blake’s “the bounding line,” which Wagner cites as the inspiration for her newest poetry collection Nervous Device.
“Wagner’s fourth collection contains poems of memory and dark artifice. She writes with an obscure, magnetic lens… the linguistic tightness of these poems are highlights of Wagner’s collection.”—Publisher’s Weekly
“Nervous Device is such a smart book. You never know where the poems are going to take you, or when some startling, often cringe-making image or thought will intrude. Unable to settle into a comfortable rhetorical space, these poems reject simple claims to knowing something or doing right or changing the world. Rather, they move like an erratic insect stuck in a language bell jar. Brilliant, and disturbing.”—Jennifer Moxley
“Nervous device, the human machine, palpitating inside its own little bounding lines. These poems do everything the human device does, vibrating like an electrified tornado inside a glass jar, and make this reader profoundly alive to huge swathes of being. There is no machine for mastering the self (yet), but there are Cathy Wagner’s poems.”—Eleni Sikelianos
“The poems in Nervous Device resonate with a knowing nod to time and the difficulty and struggle of being sentient and intimate—of loving while being human. This is poetry connectivity: sexy, poignant, knowing. And the poems here make me feel possible.”—Hoa Nguyen
In Nervous Device, Catherine Wagner takes inspiration from William Blake’s “bounding line” to explore the poem as a body at the intersection between poet and audience. Using this figure as a model for various sexual, political, and economic interactions, Wagner’s poems shift between seductive lyricism and brash fragmentation as they negotiate the failure of human connection in the twilight of American empire. Intellectually informed, yet stubbornly insistent on their own objecthood, and taking a bewildering variety of forms, the poems of Nervous Device express a self-conscious skepticism about the potential for human connection even as they maintain an optimistically charged eroticism.